Life Lost: the Tragic Case of Sahar Daftary

On December 20th, 23-year-old model Sahar Daftary died as a result of a fall from the 12th story of an apartment building in Greater Manchester (inna lillahi wa inna illaihi raji’un). May Allah have mercy on her soul. The death of this former Face of Asia has spurred many speculations in British media as to the cause of her death – was it suicide, or an accident?

Sahar Daftary

Sahar Daftary.

Media reports inform us that Daftary was believed to have committed suicide as a result of splitting up with husband Rashid Jamil. However, her family has stated that Daftary would never commit suicide and thus have introduced suspicions of an accident.

According to news reports, Daftary met Jamil at a fashion show. They later married. However, the marriage was limited to a religious ceremony and was never registered in the U.K., thus leaving the marriage unrecognized under British law. Eventually, Daftary discovered that her husband had actually been married three times before and was still married to his third wife. This left Daftary extremely upset. In fact, it seems that she had been pregnant and had a miscarriage as a result of the revelation. This is being presented as the reason for Daftary’s supposed suicide.

Overall, the many pieces written about the tragedy seem to depict the story of a young beautiful Muslim woman victimized by a cruel, controlling Muslim man. Now, don’t get me wrong. From all accounts Jamil seems like an unsavoury and skeezy character. From the Mail Online:

Sahar’s family, originally from Afghanistan, but now based in Brentford, West London, describe him as a ‘controlling’ figure, who was unable to get over Sahar after she left him.

Additionally, this from his ex-wife:

My marriage to him was like a roller-coaster ride. I was constantly under pressure. I was constantly unhappy.

‘He didn’t want responsibility, he just wanted to be carefree. He wanted the “chase” and once he’d finished the chase, he’d move on to the next woman. He was on a power trip.

‘He always had two women on the go. Two girls turned up at my house, knocking on the door claiming they were pregnant. They said he’d promised to marry them, to divorce and leave me.

‘He would cover his tracks by saying there was nothing going on and that they were lying. I believed him, but I stopped believing him when Narhisa had her son. He supported her and left us for her.’

So, yes, I cannot sympathize with the man. However, I also cannot ignore the underlying discourse: helpless Muslim woman the victim of polygamous Muslim man. The constant references to the couple’s Muslim ceremony, as well as Jamil’s former Muslim ceremony marriages, place the blame for Daftary’s death on Jamil’s polygamy and bring Islam into the picture. In fact, this Times Online article makes the link between Muslim marriages laws in the U.K. and this particular tragedy.

At this point, I do not want it to seem like I am trivializing the real problem of polygamous marriages in which wives are deceived. Personally, polygamy makes me very uncomfortable and is not something I can condone. However, that all the articles focused on this aspect of Daftary’s life and tried to imply a link between her death and polygamy creates an unnecessary hysteria and fear of the tradition of polygamy in many Muslim communities. The fatalism being associated with the practice perpetuates the stereotype that Muslim women are somehow more vulnerable to abuse from their partners than are non-Muslim women as a result of this practice.

The consistent reference to his polygamy makes it seem as if only Muslim men are capable of such deceptions. Jamil is a man who cheated on the women in his life. He is a serial cheater. And those men exist in all cultures and religions, as our many North American talk shows can attest to (watch a few episodes of Dr. Phil and this will become painfully apparent). By consistently referring to his Muslim marriages the articles send a very strong and damaging message that because of the allowance of polygamy in Islam, Muslim men are more likely to deceive the women in their lives. And this deception can have a deadly impact on victimized Muslim women.

Additionally, among speculations that Daftary committed suicide because of her husband’s other marriages are statements about her being upset about a sexually explicit video of Daftary’s being released on the internet. Considering the police have said this video is not relevant to their investigation, the mentioning of the video appears gratuitous and sensationalist. In some pieces a sentence about the video is mentioned without any explanation of its relevancy to the tragedy. It simply comes across as disgusting.

Daftary was a young woman who had a difficult past year and who was indeed mistreated by the man she loved. The cause of her death is not clear and for the media to make connections between Jamil’s actions and her death is premature. Especially the links being implied between certain Muslim traditions and her death. At this point, it may be best for the media to focus on her successes and accomplishments as a woman and a model as opposed to her difficult times. It would be best to let her rest in peace and not use her death to create more fear of Muslims.

  • Broomstick

    Yeah, that shit pisses me off. Yes, what happened to her was a tragedy and that man sounds like a sleaze-bag, but the UK media NEEDS to stop putting race and religion in this matter!!!

    News flash: WHITE GUYS are abusive assholes, too!!!! Shall I go ahead and write a big newspaper article about how many women have been raped, victimized, abused, and even MURDERED by white American assholes?????? Oh is that racist, then?

    I really despise the UK/US media. I swear I’ve had it with the Western world!!!!

    [This comment has been edited to fit within moderation guidelines.]

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Great post, Sobia. I think your point especially how media outlets linking polygamy and her death is troublesome. The problem is that just saying polygyny = Muslim is reductive, and especially harmful because these same media outlets often construct Muslim = bad. Bust out your algebra: polygyny = Muslim = bad.

    Another sad fact is that there could be a silver lining: Sahar could become some sort of post-mortem poster woman for the dangers of abusing polygyny. But this won’t happen. Sahar won’t be able to put a human face on the real emotional and psychological pressures that women who are unwillingly in polygynous marriages face and no one else will do it for her; she’ll just become another tragic glamour girl who died in the “prime of her life.”

  • cycads

    Both newspapers cited here, The Mail and Mirror are tabloids. Their style of reporting stories about ethnic minorities and Muslims are always biased; always negative that is. Another red top paper, The Sun, has also reported this tragedy:

    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article2068528.ece

    If you look at the caption under Sahar and Rashid’s wedding photo, it says “Muslim bride … Sahar dons veil to wed Rashid’. As if European-style brides don’t veil for their wedding…

  • http://jamericanmuslimah.wordpress.com Jamerican Muslimah

    May Allah grant her Jannah. Ameen.

    You know what? I’ve had it up here with the hypocritical nature of the media and (in the case of where I live) the American public when it comes to Islam and Muslims. Elliot Spitzer can have prostitutes while governor, John Edwards can cheat on his wife and so many other White men (politicians or not) can do the same and no one attributes it to their religion or ethnicity.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    Jamerican Muslimah – Your comment reminded me of this:

    “I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my race.”

    From Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege – Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

    There’s something about the way that the media covers the deaths of women in tragic circumstances that I find really creepy. It’s the whole “Doomed Dead Girl” angle, complete with as many pictures of the girl looking as attractive as possible.

  • laila

    “By consistently referring to his Muslim marriages the articles send a very strong and damaging message that because of the allowance of polygamy in Islam, Muslim men are more likely to deceive the women in their lives.”

    Sobia, but this has happened before. There are many Sheiks and Imams that have publically stated “You do not have to tell your wife if you marry another woman, it is your right”. Is this not using religion (Islam) to deceive women? There are countless of Sheiks even on You-Tube pushing the message that you do not have to tell your wife your decision of marrying another. Does this mean Muslim men are more likely to deceive women no, but in Muslim polygamies marriages I’m not so sure, the same goes for Fundamentalist Mormons practicing polygamy in BC or the Texas polygamist compound that was raided this year. Abuses do exist and people turn a blind eye. Another example of this happened this year in Toronto where the controversial Imam Aly Hindy from Salahuddin Islamic Centre (a well-known Toronto imam, at his Scarborough mosque) who performed numerous polygamies marriages advised the men to keep it a secret from your first wife as long as you can, this Iman states,

    “”I don’t encourage people to do it, unless they have reason for it. Life ends up being very complicated. You have to jump from one house to another all the time,” he said. That’s why Hindy advises men to keep the second marriage a secret as long as they can, even from the first wife. There have been instances where he has gone with the men to their homes to share the news with the first wives, in an attempt to help lessen the blow.”

    Many men entered polygamies marriages and deliberately hid the truth from their first wife’s, and there are Islamic religious leaders advising them to use deception! This is what happened to my Aunt in Toronto by the same Imam, and this also happened to Safa Rigby,

    “Hindy had advised Rigby’s husband to stay quiet. When Rigby emailed Hindy, soon after discovering he had conducted the marriage, he offered little support. “You have to stand beside him in these difficult times. You should stop causing problems to him. You will not get anything by divorce except destroying your life,” she said he told her. At that moment Rigby realized how lonely her path would be. Since the marriages are shrouded in secrecy, women are embarrassed to speak about their situations, have few supports in place, and are often forced to deal with it alone.”

    This also happened to my friend’s mother who has 7 children, her father get re-married and kept it a secret. Somehow the message that you do not have to tell your wife about your second marriage because it’s “halal” does EXIST in Muslim communities, and such Islamic religious leaders like Imam Aly Hindy have not only officiated marriages under deception but also encouraged the deception for as long as possible.

    Sobia this also happens in Muslim communities overseas, where the first wife finds out about it afterwards. Because of polygamy many men also assume they have the right to deceive. Having an affair is one thing but when the Community accepts this affair as a legitimate marriage, then…

    Please feel free to read the rest of Rigby story, “GTA’s secret world of polygamy”
    http://www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/429490

  • Dude

    Thanks cycads – my sentiments exactly:

    http://muslimahmediawatch.org/2008/12/26/friday-links-december-26-2008/#comment-5427

    When I see news originating from the Daily Mail et. al. I just ignore it. It is widely read in the UK, but every British person I’ve discussed the issue with is aware of their biases. They read it for entertainment value.

    I’m really surprised that The Mirror was linked to. You might as well start critiquing items from The National Enquirer. Perhaps you folks need a writer from the UK to join your team ;-)

    “I really despise the UK/US media. I swear I’ve had it with the Western world!!!!”

    Talk about overreaction.

  • Sobia

    @ Jamerican Muslimah:

    Ameen. I should have placed that dua in the post. Thank you for saying it.

    @Cycads and Dude:
    I understand that you have had issue with the sources we link to, but this blog is about critiquing images of Muslim women in the media and pop culture. Sources such as The Mirror ARE a part of the media and pop culture, as unreliable as it may be. They are presenting an image of Muslims that needs to be critiquing. However, I do understand your critique.

    Question: Is The Mirror like the National Enquirer which makes up stories like “Woman gives birth to alien”?

    @laila:

    You’re absolutely right. Many men abuse Islam in that way for their own benefit. I’ve always been taught that the second, third, and fourth marriages are not even valid unless the man has the permission of his other wives. Maybe that’s just the “sugar coated” version I was taught, along with the rest of the egalitarian interpretation of Islam I was raised with.

    However, my problem with the way these articles presented the tragedy was with the way they made it seem as if only Muslim men, because of the religious allowance, cheat on their wives (I consider multiple marriages without the knowledge and permission of the first wife (wives) cheating). There are many non-Muslim men, who may not marry their “mistresses” (for some reason I hate that word) like those Muslim men do, but the underlying idea is the same. Its just that non-Muslim men can’t use their religion to justify cheating on their wives, whereas Muslim men are being given permission to use Islam to justify cheating. And this is huge problem the Muslim community has to deal with.

  • http://getoutlines.wordpress.com Safiya Outlines

    Salaam Alaikum,

    The sister. in the story linked is called Safa and had a blog talking about her experiences (It still exists but it is private now). It was an absolutely heartbreaking read.

    I know it is unpleasant having our dirty laundry aired in public, but if it encourages these men to change and destructive p-marriages to stop, then I am all for it. These marriages are devastating our community and before someone gets all “but it’s the Sunnah” on me, the way these marriages are conducted is as far from the Sunnah as the North Pole is from the South

    Dude – Though a tabloid, The Mirror did used to have some integrity and was a great left wing paper. Now it’s just a comic and the U.K media is all the poorer for it.

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    It’s true, the Mirror is very tabloid-y. I lived in London for awhile, and although I don’t remember any alien stories, I wouldn’t put it past them.

    Question: An honor killing or polygamy-related death occurs in the West. Should the western media report on it? How?

  • http://www.progressiveislam.info Salaam

    “The death of this former Face of Asia has spurred many speculations in British media as to the cause of her death – was it suicide, or an accident?”

    Didn’t you leave out murder? Jamil was arrested on suspicion of murder. Also there is a report that Daftary lodged a complaint of sexual assault against him in May of this year. A suspected or accused (alleged) murderer or rapist will be accorded a lower level of respect and rougher treatment than another media figure. All the digging around in his past is the media piling on to make him into a cartoon villain.

    While the MMW mission is to look at the image of Muslim women in the media, the more provocative questions to my mind – which you do touch on – are how writers highlight facts that prompt negative stereotypes of Muslim men among the material available to them to create a villainous media persona (I see that now in the prominence given to the issue of polygyny).

    Thanks for writing this. I personally disapprove of polygyny and I suspect it caused a blind spot in my own judgment that led me to want to pile on the “bad boy” polygamist too. Your analysis here will help me better filter this stuff in the future. I’m still going to follow this story (I’ve had a noticeable number of google search hits at my blog on Daftary which indicates to me that there is a lot of interest in this story), but hopefully there will be better written stories available to point them to, and I’ll include a link to your analysis here too.

  • Broomstick

    Rochelle, why would a murdered Asian woman be considered to be a victim of “honor killing”? News flash: there’s no such thing as honor killings.

    It is a MURDER, plain and simple. You don’t hear how Black girls are murdered in the name of honor killing. You don’t hear about White girls being murdered by their fathers or uncles in the name of “honor killings,” either. Anytime a woman is murdered, it’s simply because of her GENDER, it has nothing to do with religion, race or culture!

    Honor killings is a fake term, a LIE created by the Western media to make us Muslims look even worse than we are.

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    Broomstick:

    I agree with you, actually. I hope you had looked at the link by my name, stop-stoning.org, and read our concept paper to realize that the organization I work for is, more or less, in agreement that the term ‘honor killing’ is a deceptive term. Where I might question you is with regards to religion or culture, as these have been used to justify murder — a lot.

    My question, although I may have phrased it badly, was how we want the western media to report on stories related to murder in the Muslim community. Because I think oftentimes we are too apologetic for crimes that occur in our own communities for fear of propagating racism or Islamaphobia. Then again, the western media reports it badly. So I’m just looking for solutions here.

  • Sobia

    @ Salaam:

    Initially I did have murder on the list but then took it out because the murder suspicion was not followed up by the media reports. It was mentioned in the way you noted but not followed up on by the media. The main focus was on possible suicide, or with Daftary’s family’s comments, an accident.

  • Pingback: » MMW Weekly Round up Jan 2009 Talk Islam

  • rabia

    the dude is fugly. i’ll always be baffled why loser men consistently attract and subesquently get throngs of women who want to marry them. makes me wanna puke!

  • Miss Brat

    Sahar Daftary – beautiful, young Afghan model commits “suicide”?

    I can even begin to describe how upset I was upon hearing the news of the passing of this beautiful young Afghan woman. I wish condescends to her family and loved ones. It was the passing of Sahar – and the responses to this – which prompted me to register for an account and get some things off my chest. First of all, I have read numerous disturbing forums and posts on other sites by Muslims who are condemning Sahar for committing suicide, and at the same time excusing the monster (I won’t even dignify him by stating his name) that was her ‘husband’ stating that it is permissible to have three wives in Islam. This tragedy is not about the Islamic right to polygamy – but rather the fact that this man had hidden his other wife and children from Sahar – making the marriage fraudulent by Islamic standards. Sahar had no idea that he was married three times and had a miscarriage upon finding out the truth.

    Secondly, the monster was a possessive man who would not let Sahar go – according to friends and family. When the poor girl made it clear that she was not to be his concubine – he released a pornographic video of her with him – thus ruining her name in the eyes of the Islamic community and making her unsuitable for marriage in the Islamic community. He had a history of violent behavior which the police were aware of. Sahar also made a sexual assault complaint with the British police, which she did not follow through with after the split. Apparently, he also had people following her. So she was not the love-struck lover, by all accounts she was trying to ESCAPE from him.

    Thirdly, let’s not judge Sahar – for the alleged “suicide” – if that is in fact the case. From everything I have read in is my belief that Sahar did not commit suicide. She had just enrolled herself in college, bough an expensive plan ticket to Dubai with plans to go celebrate her birthday there with family and friends and from all accounts was a strong and religious girl. It just doesn’t add up – she went to her ex’s home to pack up her belongings. Keep it mind that the break up and miscarriage happened two months before her death. Why wait for two months? Why make future plans with no intentions to carry them out? And finally, why would the person who is trying to end the relationship take their own life? Like I said he had a history of violence and was charged with assault on another female. He was unwilling to let her go. When she moved her stuff out of his house – it signaled the end and maybe he couldn’t handle it. He should be the one who gets all the hatred and venom on the forums – not the victim! I hope the police open an investigation and I truly hope that someone starts a victim’s fund for her poor widowed mother.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Oooh! Good one, Safiya & Jamerican!!


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